A Look Back at 2020…The year in Review, Part 3

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    SEPTEMBER

       The number of COVID-19 cases in Wayne County soared during the first week of September 2020 when nearly 1,000 inmates at the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton tested positive for the virus.

       “The health and safety of the individuals entrusted to our care and our staff is the top priority for CoreCivic,” said CoreCivic representative Ryan Gustin. “This commitment is shared by our partners at the Tennessee Department of Correction, and we have worked closely together with TDOC and state health officials to respond to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities.”

       The annual “Pullin’ in the Wood” tractor pull in Collinwood was successful once again last September, although it turned into a one-day event rather than two nights due to inclement weather. The 2020 tractor pull was dedicated in memory of the late Brent “Beefy” Dixon, who was always a big supporter and participant in the annual pulls.

       Old Timers’ Day, another big annual event in Collinwood, was successful as well. A big crowd showed up on September 5th for the parade along Broadway and the activities that followed at Ralph Hughes Park. After months of nothing but the coronavirus pandemic occupying everyone’s minds and limiting activities, the event provided a chance to get together for some much-needed fun and fellowship.

       After months of anxiously awaiting, Quik Mart customers in Waynesboro were rewarded with the opening of the new store. The former Quik Mart building was demolished in the spring, and construction immediately began on the new expanded store. It only took a few months to rebuild the bigger and better facility.

       A big crime story broke in Wayne and Hardin Counties at the end of September. Word was received that following a week-long trial, a federal jury had convicted Charles Ray Smith, 71, of Crump, Tennessee, of defrauding three banks in Tennessee and Alabama, including the Wayne County Bank.

       According to information presented in court, Smith owned and operated several aggregate materials businesses in Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana. From March 2009 until February 2012, Smith defrauded Central Bank in Savannah, TN by depositing and directing others to deposit more than $116 million in fraudulent bank checks into his companies’ bank account. Smith also defrauded Wayne County Bank in Waynesboro and First Metro Bank in Muscle Shoals, AL by falsifying collateral to obtain loans.  As a result, Smith stole more than $9.9 million from the victim banks. The jury convicted Smith of all of the counts in the indictment, charging him with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and seven counts of bank fraud.

    OCTOBER

       As a National State of Emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic remained in place, Governor Bill Lee announced early in October 2020 that the State of Emergency in Tennessee would continue through October, with adjustments made to previous executive orders.

        “Tennessee’s response continues to be one of the most targeted in the country and a continued State of Emergency ensures we have access to additional federal funds, ensure our health care capacity is stable and loosen restrictions that would otherwise hinder our response time,” said Governor Lee. “COVID-19 is still a serious problem and I encourage every Tennessean to continue social distancing and doing their part to make wise choices and help mitigate the spread of the virus.”

       In April 2020, Governor Lee announced $200 million in grants to be distributed to every county and city government across Tennessee for one-time, local expenses in fiscal year 2021. Funding was based on population as published by the U.S. Census Bureau. The grant guidelines stated that funds could be used for road projects, I.T. upgrades, capital maintenance, utility system upgrades, and public safety projects.

       Wayne County Executive Jim Mangubat said that he was very appreciative of the approximately $1 million dollars that Wayne County was set to receive, but he was concerned that the counties would not have more discretion over what exactly the grant money could be used for. After discussions between State Representative David Byrd, County Executive Mangubat, and Governor Bill Lee, Wayne County received approval to use some of the grant funding to help our local active volunteer fire departments. Eight VFDs in Wayne County were presented with a check for $5,000 in October 2020: Holly Creek, Southgate, Lutts, Cypress Inn, Buffalo River/Topsy, Highway 69, Eagle Creek, and Ovilla. Each of these departments was very thankful for the money, as all of our volunteer fire departments are constantly in need of equipment, supplies, and upgrades.

       Although the schedules were modified several times due to COVID-10, our county high school and junior high football teams were able to begin and end their seasons with somewhat of a sense of normalcy. The Waynesboro Middle School Wildcats, under the direction of first-year coach Ben Gallian, claimed the Conference Championship title, finishing their season with a record of 8 wins and 1 loss. The WCHS Wildcats and CHS Trojans both made it to the state playoffs, where they ended their coronavirus-impacted seasons.

       Ross Creek Landing Golf Course in Clifton officially re-opened on Saturday, October 14th, after months of work getting the course ready for play. The course, one of five built by the State of Tennessee and designed by Jack Nicklaus, opened in 2001 and closed in 2013. Before it closed, it was widely considered the best of the Bear Trace courses and earned numerous honors, including being named Tennessee’s No. 1 public course by Golfweek.

       Fairways were mowed and overgrowth thinned on the course. Greens were sprigged, verti-cut, and sanded. Co-owner Fred Gilham said it wasn’t all smooth sailing as he and business partners Tommy Tinin and David Chasteen toiled to get the course ready to reopen. “We ran into little things every day,” Gilham said. “But everybody who has come by to see it has been impressed.”

       On Monday, October 19, 2020, officers with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office executed arrests from Wayne County Grand Jury indictments relating to “Operation Covid Relief,” a months-long investigation involving the distribution of methamphetamine in Wayne County.

       “Methamphetamine is just as much a pandemic in Wayne County as any other disease, and it shows that during the disastrous times we are encountering with the coronavirus that this evil drug still has a tremendous hold on Wayne County. The pandemic has not slowed those responsible for ruining our wonderful county with this poison,” said Sheriff Shane Fisher. 

       The individuals listed were allegedly responsible for distributing large amounts of methamphetamine throughout Wayne County during the pandemic, hence the name “Operation Covid Relief:” Shawn Paul DeJean, Lonnie Allen Dixon, Cecil Lee Bryant, Olivia Denise Holt, Tammy Lynn Wilcoxson, Makayla Delrae Perry, Jerry Allen Johnson, Jimmy Robert Murphy, David Joe Pitts, Rachel Leigh Hart, Chrystal Kay Robbins, Austin Isaac Gunn, Donna Sue Waters, David Jonah Miley, Brandon Kyle Stevenson, and Jordan David Powers.

       The Trunk or Treat festivities at the Sportsplex on Halloween brought out hundreds of citizens who waited in line for up to an hour to receive treats. Highway 13 South was backed up for close to a mile, and vehicles were in line two rows deep in the parking lot. Since COVID-19 had such an impact on “normal” trick-or-treating, this event gave youngsters the opportunity to still be able to participate in Halloween, and to be able to take home a bag (or two) full of candy and treats!

    NOVEMBER

       Joe Biden claimed victory in the United States Presidential Election on November 3, 2020. Although the election has been hotly contested by President Donald Trump, Biden is set to be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021. Although Biden claimed the national victory, Tennessee and Wayne County voted overwhelmingly “red” once again. The Donald Trump/Mike Pence ticket claimed 87% of the Wayne County vote, as opposed to the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris 12% vote in the county.

       Tennessee State Representative David Byrd and State Senator Joey Hensley were both re-elected to their seats in the State Legislature. Glenn Brown, Debie Pigg, and Jeremiah Stults retained their seats on the Collinwood City Commission, and Mark Staggs and Eva Ruth Warren were re-elected to their seats on the Clifton City Commission.

       Following a spike in COVID-19 cases in Wayne County, County Executive Jim Mangubat announced in November 2020 that a mask mandate was being put into place county-wide. The emergency declaration ordered that masks or face coverings be worn in all public places of business. The mandate stated, in part,   “IT IS ORDERED that cloth or other face coverings that cover the nose and mouth of a person to impede the spread of the virus during speaking, coughing, sneezing or other action, shall be required in Wayne County, Tennessee, within all publicly-accessible areas of commercial business establishments; in public outdoor areas where social distancing of at least six feet cannot be maintained; and within the publicly-accessible areas of business offices where there is direct interaction with the public and social distancing of at least six feet cannot be maintained. A “commercial business establishment” means any establishment that sells goods or services, or a combination thereof, including but not limited to grocery stores, restaurants, lobbies and public spaces in hotels and other places of lodging, pharmacies, banks, salons, retail stores, medical and dental offices, and entertainment and sports venues.” Several exclusions to the mandate, including children and churches, were listed as well.

       Discussion abounded throughout the county in November about the new fee at the Wayne County Solid Waste Facility for dumping brush and/or construction debris. The Wayne County Commission voted to begin in September charging a fee of $72.21 per ton to accept any of those materials from either individual citizens or commercial waste haulers. County Executive Jim Mangubat stated that the fee became necessary following the closure of the Decatur County landfill, where Wayne County had taken their garbage for the last several years.

       Although the fee for dumping these materials at the facility is costly to many, officials continue to strongly urge citizens not to dump any garbage anywhere outside of designated locations.

       Wayne County’s annual Veterans Day Celebration was held in Collinwood on Veterans Day, November 11th. The event was moved from the Wayne County Veterans Park to the Collinwood Recreation Building due to the threat of inclement weather. Members of the Collinwood American Legion Post 254 hosted the event, with help from members of the Waynesboro American Legion Post 130. Several city, county, and state officials were on hand for the event, including Collinwood Mayor Glenn Brown, County Executive Jim Mangubat, State Representative David Byrd, State Senator Joey Hensley, and U.S. Congressman Mark Green. Wayne County veteran Larry Wright was the MC for the event, and the Collinwood High School Band and Wayne County High School Band performed the National Anthem.

       Beloved local physician and Wayne County Commissioner Dr. Joe Hall passed away on November 12, 2020, following a weeks-long battle against the deadly COVID-19 virus.

       Dr. Hall had a long and respected career in Wayne County, serving as an EMT, Director of Emergency Management Services, certified RN, Director of Nurses, Anesthetist, County Coroner, Medical Examiner, and more. He opened his own practice, Hall Medical Clinic, in 2003.

       Dr. Joe Hall was 69 years old. He was a beloved friend and physician, loving husband to his wife Christy, and devoted father to sons Patrick and Wyatt and daughters Valerie and Jazmyn.

       Wayne County lost another icon on November 16, 2020 when Bobby Brown passed away due to complications from the COVID-19 virus. Bobby was well known throughout the county, attending every event where he could enjoy being around people. He would catch a ride to every ballgame, every wedding, and every church revival and would sing a good gospel song if he could. He was an avid Tennessee Vols fan and Wayne County Wildcats fan. He grieved with every family that lost a loved one and rarely missed a funeral. He attended Waynesboro First Baptist Church where he sang in the choir. Bobby’s kindness and love will live in the memory of his grieving community, but his love for his Lord will be remembered the most. In Bobby’s own words, “You can’t keep a good man down!”

       The pavilion which stood for many decades at the entrance to the Waynesboro City Park was destroyed by fire on Tuesday night, November 17, 2020. Fire crews responded to the blaze at approximately 11:30 p.m., but were unable to save the structure. Officials stated that the fire was not believed to be intentional. The Waynesboro City Commission said that they would have to wait on insurance reimbursement to make a decision as to whether or not the pavilion would be rebuilt.

    DECEMBER

       The 2020 Christmas holiday season was ushered in with the annual Waynesboro Christmas Parade, Collinwood Christmas Parade, and Clifton Stroll Through Christmas. Although many nearby cities and counties cancelled all holiday activities in an abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 virus, Wayne Countians were still able to enjoy the local festivities while being strongly encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing.

       County high school and junior high basketball seasons were finally able to get underway in late November/early December 2020. All three high school teams, WCHS, CHS, and FHS, are still playing, although the schedule has already been modified numerous times due to COVID.

       Multiple rooms at the RenCass Motel, located on Highway 64 West in Waynesboro, were heavily damaged by fire in the early hours of Sunday morning, December 13, 2020. At least two motel rooms were completely destroyed by the blaze.

       Wayne County EMA Director Robert Farris was first in line to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Wayne County Health Department in December 2020. Staff administered the vaccination to first responders, frontline healthcare workers, and individuals age 75 and older until their supply of vaccines ran out the first week of January. The Health Department plans to resume vaccinations as soon as the supply is replenished.

       Harvey Baker, longtime soccer coach and mentor to young Wayne County soccer players, was honored in December by the City of Waynesboro with a resolution to dedicate the soccer fields at the Sportsplex in his honor. Mr. Baker has donated countless hours of his time and labor toward the success of the soccer program in Wayne County.

       The dedicated volunteers for the Angel Tree program in Wayne County knocked it out of the park again in 2020! Program Director Amy Van Fleet said that over 400 kids would have a great Christmas with the gifts the program purchased for them from donations made by many caring citizens of our community.

       A tragic and totally unexpected bombing in Nashville early on Christmas morning brought devastation to businesses and apartments in the area, but thankfully no lives were lost. The bombing had far-reaching effects, as it heavily damaged an AT&T facility and caused major phone outages in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky. Many county 911 systems were disrupted, and AT&T cell service was not restored to most customers, including here in Wayne County, until the following Sunday evening. The bomber was identified as Anthony Quinn Warner of Nashville, but officials are still investigating a possible motive.

       Waynesboro lost a landmark business on the day after Christmas when Harold’s Cleaners was destroyed by fire. At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 26th, the Waynesboro City Fire Department and Station 1 were called out to Harold’s Cleaners, located on Belew Circle in Waynesboro. The building was already engulfed in heavy flames and smoke when firefighters arrived on the scene. The origin of the fire was suspected to have been near the heating source for the building. The fire was listed as accidental.

       Mrs. Edna Cole and her late husband Harold opened their dry cleaning business in the Waynesboro building in 1965, and have been a staple business in the community since then. Their services will truly be missed in the community.

       As the year 2020 came to a close, we all reflected on what a tumultuous year it had been. A pandemic unlike anything most of us had ever seen in our lifetime still held the country in its grip as the new year rang in. Many of us lost loved ones to the terrible virus in 2020, and sadly, more losses are certain to come in 2021. Political mayhem, natural disasters, and riots dominated the news, second only to the pandemic. But one thing that we still have, even if we don’t realize it, or even if it is just a tiny sliver, is hope. Hope for a better year, hope for our children and grandchildren, and hope for a future that brings good health, prosperity, and perhaps most of all, love for one another.

       Happy New Year from The Wayne County News!